“Tetra. Is that T-E-R-T-A?” says Nicole Watts, staring at the screen with her eyebrows furrowed. “T-E-T-R-A,” one of her students calls out. She thanks him, and for a half-second a tiny smile makes its way across her face. Ten years ago, she would’ve felt sheepish at the thought of having to ask for help. Ten years ago, she would’ve blanched at the prospect of writing a word in front of a crowd. She retypes the word, spelled correctly this time. Of course, ten years ago, it wasn’t dyslexia; it was something to be ashamed of.
Aquatic Science teacher Ms. Watts knew from a young age that she had dyslexia. The problem, it seemed, was never identifying it, but rather moving past it.
“Growing up, I struggled through school,” Watts said. “I felt very down about myself when I was younger.”
Watts’ friends were all in upper-level classes, which she could not be in due to her disability, which made her insecure as a person and a student.
“As a student, I was always in and out of tutoring, which really pushed me away from enjoying education,” Watts said.
In high school, Watts felt that nobody really understood the effects of her dyslexia, thus feeling isolated and as if she wouldn’t be able to succeed as a student.
“It really wasn’t until college that I felt the most confident in my disability,” Watts said.
In college, Watts forced herself to learn different writing and teaching methods to accommodate her disability, and encourages others to do the same.
“It’s crucial to take breaks and help yourself,” Watts said. “I mean, that even goes for people without dyslexia.”
Watts feels grateful that she has learned ways to work around dyslexia, both in the context of learning and being open about it, even if the latter came too late for her.
“I’ve always been nervous about my disability,” Watts said. “But, now I sort of use that to advocate.”
Watts uses her position as an educator as not just a platform to speak about it, but a way in which dyslexic students can find a lifeline and know they are not alone.
“It really wasn’t until the tail end of my career as a student that I learned how to help myself,” Watts said. “But that just encourages me to help others with dyslexia be open and do what they need to do to succeed.”
Written by Madeline Tredway